Lavinia Goodell: Wisconsin's First Woman Lawyer

The first woman lawyer admitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court had to fight for that status, overcoming opposition from the most powerful legal figure in the state. Lavinia Goodell (1839-1880) was also one of the first female trial lawyers in the United States, a nationally-respected writer, a Vice President of the Association for the Advancement of Woman, a candidate for Janesville City Attorney, a successful lobbyist, a jail reformer, and a temperance advocate. Yet she is undeservedly obscure. Another woman’s likeness adorns her spot in books, on the web, and at the Rock County Courthouse. Lavinia Goodell: The Private Life and Public Trials of Wisconsin’s First Woman Lawyer aims to secure her rightful place in history.

Blog Authors

Latest from Lavinia Goodell: Wisconsin's First Woman Lawyer

“Miss Lavinia Goodell & Miss Angie King have formed a partnership for the practice of law.” Janesville Gazette, February 1, 1879 Angie King kept busy during the 1870s by working in her brother’s bookstore and caring for her blind sister. At the same time, she studied law in the office of A.A. Jackson.  Along withContinue reading → The post “Miss Lavinia Goodell & Miss Angie King have formed a partnership for the practice of law.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
Lavinia’s jail school “I had no idea that criminals were so interesting,” Lavinia Goodell told her sister, Maria. “I believe I could run [the Rock County] jail, so as to turn out every man better than he came in. Jails and prisons could just as well be made schools of virtue as vice if peopleContinue reading → The post Lavinia’s jail school appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“These high-minded, noble animals of the superior sex were willing to stoop to the dirtiest work” The Revolution, May 8, 1869 Angie King’s unsuccessful 1869 battle to be appointed Janesville’s postmaster (after Janesville’s male Republican voters elected her to the position) garnered national media attention. The Revolution, the women’s rights newspaper founded by Susan B.Continue reading → The post “These high-minded, noble animals of the superior sex were willing to stoop to the dirtiest work” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“The contest for the post office is growing hotter every day.” Janesville Gazette, February 6, 1869 After Lavinia Goodell became Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer, she served as a mentor to other women looking to enter the legal profession. The life and career of Kate Kane, the second Wisconsin woman admitted to the bar, is chronicledContinue reading → The post “The contest for the post office is growing hotter every day.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“We are here to study literature.” Motto of the Round Table literary society, Janesville, Wisconsin Lavinia Goodell’s diaries and letters tell us that she was a voracious reader. She read contemporary authors (Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe), classics (Shakespeare),  and scientific works (Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”) 1870s Janesville, Wisconsin wasContinue reading → The post “We are here to study literature.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
Reclaiming criminals: “My remedies will either kill or cure!” Lavinia was quite taken with James Tolan, her client accused of stealing a $23 watch. “I never had the confidence of a criminal before,” she told her sister.  “It was a very interesting experience.” Poor Tolan, an inmate of the Rock County jail, was literally aContinue reading → The post Reclaiming criminals: “My remedies will either kill or cure!” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
In the fall of 1875, Judge Harmon Conger—the same judge who admitted Lavinia to the Rock County bar—changed the course of her legal career. She was sitting in her office drafting a client’s will when a sheriff popped in to announce that the judge had just appointed her to defend two criminals. One, James Tolan, was charged with stealing a watch from someone. The other, Harrison Cramer, had allegedly stolen spoons, jackknives, and a black silk belt from a store. The appointments surprised Lavinia.  Continue reading → The post “What shall we do with our criminals?” appeared first on Lavinia
“Woman is man’s equal.” Declaration of Sentiments issued at Seneca Falls, New York, July 1848 “The equal right of Woman to social, civil and political equality, has always been to me like an axiom which it were as idle to dispute as to undertake to controvert the multiplication table.” – Lavinia Goodell, 1875 On JulyContinue reading → The post “Woman is man’s equal.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
Lavinia at the 1876 Centennial Celebration From May to November 1876, Philadelphia hosted the first official World’s Fair in the United States. Called the “Centennial International Exhibition of 1876,” the event celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Lavinia not only attended it, her certificate of admission to the RockContinue reading → The post Lavinia at the 1876 Centennial Celebration appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“From a Land of Slavery to One of Freedom” Lavinia Goodell grew up in a household imbued with the notion of equal rights for all, and throughout her life she was at ease with people who were different from herself. One of her classmates at the Brooklyn Heights Seminary in the 1850s was a girlContinue reading → The post “From a Land of Slavery to One of Freedom” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
Black Lives Mattered to the Goodells Lavinia Goodell grew up in a staunch abolitionist family. In 1833, her father William Goodell assisted in organizing the American Anti-Slavery Society. He started the “Emancipator” newspaper and in later years edited other similar papers, including “The Friend of Man,” “The Radical Abolitionist” and “The Principia,” on which LaviniaContinue reading → The post Black Lives Mattered to the Goodells appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“What a good father we have!” –Lavinia Goodell, March 10, 1864 Lavinia Goodell and her father, William, shared a close relationship founded on mutual respect. William was 47 years old when Lavinia was born in 1839. His wife was 42. (Read about Lavinia’s birth here.) Their only other living child, Maria, was 12 and soonContinue reading → The post “What a good father we have!” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
A young, lady lawyer wins with her looks; an old one needs a strong case. Pretty, young, female lawyers are fascinating to watch in court, and “they might occasionally get away with a verdict from a susceptible jury.” But they cannot achieve the same level of success as a young male lawyer. By the timeContinue reading → The post A young, lady lawyer wins with her looks; an old one needs a strong case. appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“Do not be alarmed when you hear of the great riots. Your trio are safe, and we trust the worst is over.” Lavina Goodell, July 17, 1863 At a time when many cities have seen protests, with some erupting into violence and clashes with police, the chaotic scenes displayed in our modern media might lookContinue reading → The post “Do not be alarmed when you hear of the great riots. Your trio are safe, and we trust the worst is over.” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
“Take that you dirty dog!” One of the more controversial characters in Lavinia Goodell’s diaries is Kate Kane (Rossi), Wisconsin’s second woman lawyer. Lavinia helped launch her career. If she had lived long enough to watch it unfold, she probably wouldn’t want the credit. Lavinia was brilliant but cool and reserved in public—more RBG thanContinue reading → The post “Take that you dirty dog!” appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…
Blue Glass, Phrenology & Blood Food: 19th Century Health Crazes As researchers rush to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the pandemic has spawned a bevy of supposed miracle cures. People desperate for any glimmer of hope rush  to try the magic elixirs and when they fail to produce the anticipated result, the users abandon themContinue reading → The post Blue Glass, Phrenology & Blood Food: 19th Century Health Crazes appeared first on Lavinia Goodell.…